When Dusty Rhodes joined the Giants, the "book" on him read: "Good fast-ball hitter; throw change-of-pace." Last year the Giants made an exhibition tour to Japan. On his first time at bat, Rhodes struck out. The Japanese pitcher used a change-of-pace for the third strike. Rhodes strode back to the bench talking to himself.
"Dammit," he said. "If I was playin' at the North Pole, some stinkin' Eskimo would pop out of an igloo and say, 'Can't hit the change.' "
In the first game of the World Series last week, Rhodes won for the Giants with a three-run homer off Bob Lemon in the 10th inning. He hit a change-of-pace pitch. In the second game, having singled home the tying run in the fifth inning, he smashed a rousing home run in the seventh to make victory secure. The big hit was made on Early Wynn's knuckler, a variation of the change-up.
After that, Cleveland pitchers threw away the book and reverted to first principles. When Rhodes came up, they fired fast balls through the strike zone. The Giants, knowing their playmate, deemed this suicidal, yet after one more single that won the third game, Rhodes struck out twice on Ray Narleski's and Don Mossi's hard stuff. Baseball is not an exact science.
James Lamar Rhodes was born May 13,1927, in Mathews, Ala. but wearied of small-town life and moved to Rock Hill, S.C. He is a strapping six-footer with wide shoulders and a jutting jaw, good-looking in a rather angular, faintly scowling fashion. In physique and manner of speech and deportment, he has reminded some of Van Lingle Mungo, a memorable Dodger pitcher of the '30s.
He speaks with a cornpone-and-sorghum accent but during the World Series he spoke little. Sportswriters covering the clubhouse found him monosyllabic, though he may only have been dazed by his own magnificence. After the second game he seemed grateful for the clamor of photographers yelling, "Just one more, Dusty," because they made a buffer between him and reporters.
When the cameramen were quiet at last, a writer contrasted Rhodes's muscular second home run with his flabby first one: "Well, nothing Chinese about this one, eh, Dusty?"
"Yeh," Dusty said heavily, "no chop suey."
The repartee might not win him 26 weeks at the Palace, yet in cooler times he's considered something of a comedian on the team, or at least an excellent straight man for Bobby Hofman, a wisecracker and accomplished bench jockey.
Hofman and Rhodes, who room together on trips, are founders and charter members of a semisecret society within the Giants, the Scabini. The name is Hofman's coinage, identifying the scrubs who skulk their summers away in the dank shade of the dugout. Bill Taylor is one of the Scabini, and when Ray Katt was catching most of the games, Wes Westrum was admitted to temporary membership. Joe Garagiola, the third-string catcher, was enthusiastically voted in on arrival from the Cubs.
"THE PITCHER'S GOT TO WORRY"
Rhodes could always swing a bat. He knew that when he was 19 and a scout named Bruce Hayes signed him for Nashville, and he expects enemy pitchers to know it. That's one reason why he's a good pinch batter (he made 45 such appearances for the Giants this season and got 15 hits for an average of .333).
After his first World Series homer, reporters were asking how a fellow felt under the heavy responsibility a pinch batter must shoulder. Did he worry?
"Unh-unh," Rhodes said. "The pitchers got to worry about getting me out."
Starting in the minors in 1947, when he hit .326 for Hopkinsville in the Kitty League, he won a double reputation, as batsman and as a blithe spirit after dark. Because of the former, the Cubs bought title to him for a while; because of the latter, Chicago relinquished its claims.
In 1952 Rhodes was batting .347 for Nashville. He was growing up, a family man of 25 with two sons. The manager in Nashville was the fatherly Larry Gilbert, an understanding man who knows a thing or two about tempering boyish exuberance.
The Giants had a working agreement with Nashville. On Gilbert's recommendation, they paid $25,000 for Rhodes. He has given them no trouble. Pitchers cannot say as much, especially those in Cleveland.
In baseball as in war, a man's reputation follows him around. The Giants' Leo Durocher and Horace Stoneham occasionally hear tales about Rhodes like those Abraham Lincoln heard of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. They make the same answer Lincoln did.
OUT OF CHARACTER
GOOD STRAIGHT MEN
When Phil Regan introduced this team at a Saratoga benefit the fellow at the left had ridden more than 3,000 winners. His partner recently passed that mark. Only Sir Gordon Richards and Johnny Longden have booted home more winners than: Eddie Arcaro and Ted Atkinson